Feature 04.01.2019 3 minutes

To Win on Race, the Right Must Face Reality


1964 was not the end of racial history.

Sarah Jeong’s racist tweets are inexcusable and hypocritical. The arguments deployed by her defenders rate a zero out of 10 on the persuasion scale. Bill Voegeli amply, and correctly, makes this case.

And yet, reading his essay gave me the feeling I get when watching the University of Alabama’s football team play some hopeless cupcake like Arkansas State. The intellectual entertainment value, as it were, is limited by the fact that Bill takes on the weakest of the left’s arguments: the Marxist construction that while racism against blacks or Hispanics is outrageous, racism against whites is justified. This deserves all the opprobrium Bill heaps on it.

While it is, of course, terrible that such views are widespread on the far left, the good news is that a large majority of Americans does not agree with them. Whites will remain a majority of the American population for some time, and its largest plurality for a long time thereafter. The political viability of out-and-out anti-white racism, therefore, will remain contained for the foreseeable future.

I would have loved to have seen Bill engage the progressives’ strongest argument on race: that the legacy of slavery and segregation does indeed have an economic impact on poor black communities today.

To give one of many examples: for much of the 20th century, the federal government restricted the ability of aspiring black homeowners to take out mortgages, using a practice called “redlining.” Because public schools are funded through local taxes, and because blacks were effectively segregated into poor communities, upwardly mobile blacks faced substantial challenges in obtaining an education and building wealth.

Not only does Bill not engage these stronger arguments, he implicitly dismisses them. He suggests that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 should be considered the End of Racial History, and that only identity politics-crazed leftists could today believe that “if the civil rights movement had proven less beneficial than previously expected, part of the explanation [is] that white racism had proven more virulent and subtle than previously assumed.”

Racial bias has not been entirely eliminated from America. When, in previous decades, urban areas with large black populations were wrestling with an epidemic of crack cocaine, the typical conservative response was that black communities suffered from a “crisis of personal responsibility” and moral dissolution. The go-to conservative policy response was incarceration.

Such criticisms have been much harder to find with the opioid crisis that has hit white rural communities in recent years. The opioid crisis, conservative pundits assure us, is not the fault of opioid addicts themselves, but of corrupt elites who abandoned these communities and left them little choice but to turn to drugs. Here, the conservative policy response has not been incarceration, but subsidization. Indeed, the tens of billions in new federal spending on opioid rehabilitation and health care has led a dissident writer at The Federalist to ask plaintively, “Should personal responsibility play a role in solving the opioid crisis?”

While we have indeed abolished slavery and officially banned segregation, it is empirically wrong to dismiss the existence of racial bias today. Nearly every major conference of the conservative movement includes a panel discussion on the scourge of political correctness and the stress it places on conservative students (the vast majority of whom are white). Is it so hard to believe that there is also a psychological toll that comes from being black, walking down the street, and having white people avoid you because they’re afraid you might be a criminal?

Conservatives aren’t practitioners of empathy, of trying to see the world from the perspective of those whose backgrounds or life experiences might be different from their own. It’s a problem needlessly exacerbated by our movement’s vicious cycle.

The perception—fair or unfair—that the conservative movement is racially biased drives minorities out. The resulting conservative coalition is overwhelmingly white. As a result, conservative communities lose the ability to interact with minorities and see the world from their perspectives. That, in turn, leads to a policy agenda and a rhetorical style that reflects the concerns of largely white communities, only enhancing the perception that conservatives are racially biased.

Just as many liberal journalists don’t realize that they’re politically biased—because everyone they know is on the left—white conservatives often don’t appreciate subtleties about their rhetoric that turn minorities off. Taking just one example, to us, states’ rights is an obvious manifestation of constitutional principles and local accountability. To blacks who remember how ”states’ rights” were deployed to maintain segregation, the term has a different meaning. Recognizing the problem does not make us practitioners of “identity politics” but, rather, of reality. Conservatives should be pro-reality.

The American Mind presents a range of perspectives. Views are writers’ own and do not necessarily represent those of The Claremont Institute.

The American Mind is a publication of the Claremont Institute, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, dedicated to restoring the principles of the American Founding to their rightful, preeminent authority in our national life. Interested in supporting our work? Gifts to the Claremont Institute are tax-deductible.

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